Six Takeaways from the Nike EYBL and Under Armour Association Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Nike EYBL and Under Armour Association made stops in the Indianapolis area this weekend during the second (and final) weekend college coaches could be out this spring for the live evaluation period. It meant that the Hoosier state was the epicenter of college basketball recruiting this weekend as most of the elite players and top programs found their way to the area at some point in time. Here’s a look at some storylines from the weekend, including a look at some of the top players in the class.

1. DeAndre Ayton remains No. 1 in the Class of 2017

The Class of 2017 has some solid star power at the top and this group also had the benefit of playing behind a deep and competitive Class of 2016 the last few years. So the top of the 2017 class was already well prepared to take the torch and run with it as a lot of stars had big performances during the last two weekends in front of college coaches.

But the 7-foot Ayton remains the most impressive long-term prospect among a group that will produce plenty of college stars and good pros. Gifted physically in ways that are seldom seen of a seven-footer, Ayton gobbles up apex rebounds over every other player in traffic and has the lateral quickness to defend smaller players on the perimeter. He’s averaging 19.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game on 65 percent shooting the first two weekends. And if you foul Ayton, he’s making 80 percent for his free throws so far, so you can’t go to some kind of hack-a-player strategy that is often effective with centers as big and athletic as he is. With his size, touch and overall skill level, Ayton is a monster when he’s motivated to play his hardest.

Recruiting is a bit of a mystery for Ayton right now, as he mentioned that Kansas has been the school on him the hardest.

2. The group of big men behind Ayton is very strong

The next few months, Ayton will be pushed plenty by a strong group of big men. It’s an encouraging sign that other five-star centers like Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter, Brandon McCoy, Nick Richards and Ikey Obiagu have all had some productive outings and appear to be growing in skill level. There are also plenty of four-star centers trying to make a push up the top 50 like UConn commit Zach Brown, Arkansas commit Daniel Gafford, Texas A&M commit Mitchell Robinson and Indiana native Malik Williams.

When you also factor in that five-star center Jeremiah Tilmon is injured and Auburn commit Austin Wiley is still recovering and that is a ton of big men that currently reside around the top 50 prospects in the country.

But after this core group of centers, there appears to be a bit of a steep decline in the talent levels. Obviously, there will be plenty of times other centers can be tested against these top-tier guys over the next few months, but landing one of these big men will be a major priority for the top schools and you can see why a few schools made a strong push to land a commitment early.

3. Trevon Duval is (still) the top point guard in a weak class for floor leaders

The Class of 2016 will be great for college basketball, in-part, because the amount of ultra-talented point guards entering the fray. The top of that class was littered with potential one-and-done point guards that will start and make an immediate impact next season.

That doesn’t appear to be the case in the Class of 2017. Delaware native Trevon Duval is certainly one of the most explosive point guards to come along during the last few years and he appears to be head-and-shoulders above his point-guard peers right now. The 6-foot-3 Duval combines athleticism, a high skill level and a competitive fire that pushes him into the top five.

Behind Duval, there are a few prospects to get excited about, but nobody can push for the top spot in the class like he can at the moment.

What’s interesting to note is how some point guards could be developed over the next few months. Remember, at the high school level, a lot of taller guards are forced to play off the ball with their high school teams in order to get the most talent on the floor. Now in the grassroots setting, some of these players who were thought of as wings and shooting guards are working on point-guard skills because college coaches are either recruiting them as such, or they have the potential makeup to play with the ball in their hands. We saw this sort of thing last summer with players like Markelle Fultz and Frank Jackson working to become point guards after being dominant high school scorers and it could certainly happen again.

4. Big wings continue to be a focus of elite college programs

We’ve seen the proliferation of jumbo wings in basketball the last few years as everyone is trying to get the next Kevin Durant or Brandon Ingram to come aboard and play on the wing. It’s rare to find wings that are as tall and talented as one of the best players in the world and the potential No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, but the Class of 2017 has some enticing options.

Five-star wings Michael Porter Jr., Kevin Knox and Billy Preston are all in or around the top ten and all of them stand at least 6-foot-8 with perimeter skills many guards would envy. There are also some other bigger wings who do different things well. Jarred Vanderbilt is still working to find his perimeter shot, but he’s an elite rebounder and very good passer from the wing. All four of those players can either move up the four and add more perimeter skill, or play at the three and become a matchup problem for smaller teams. Their versatility is why all four are five-star prospects.

5. Positional flexibility is becoming more of a focus with wings and big men

Changes in basketball the last few years have led to many coaches re-evaluating positional standards and what they’re looking for when it comes to recruiting. The Golden State Warriors have used 6-foot-6 Draymond Green at center and power forward extensively the last two seasons and had some of the greatest seasons in NBA history with a smaller lineup often leading the charge. Villanova started 6-foot-6 Kris Jenkins at power forward on its national championship team and only had one player taller than 6-foot-8 in its regular rotation.

Now we’re starting to see those former “tweeners” become assets as college coaches are figuring out better ways to get the most talented players on the floor. If you can handle the ball, pass and move laterally, it doesn’t matter as much if you are “undersized” anymore as many coaches appear keen on trying to copy the Golden State and Villanova model.

It’s resonated with players at the high school level to a degree as well. Some undersized forwards are beginning to understand how they can be properly utilized while others are still being told that they’re too small to play the traditional power forward spot. It’ll be intriguing to see how certain players fit with certain programs and how college coaches will try to put them on the floor. In the Class of 2017, players like P.J. Washington, Ira Lee and Galen Alexander will be ones to monitor with this situation because of their size and strength on the wing while also being able to play some forward in smaller lineups.

6. College coaches limiting themselves on the road is hurting the game

It’s nice that the April live evaluation period has returned with two full weekends that college coaches can evaluate players but it’s still not nearly enough time. Transfer numbers continue to be abnormally high over the last few years and one of the reasons is that college coaches don’t get a chance to properly evaluate high school players on the grassroots setting nearly enough.

With only two weekends in April and three weeks in July, this current calendar doesn’t make a lot of sense. It would be more beneficial to college coaches, and high school players, if they had more time to watch players and spread it out over a couple of months.

The back-to-back weekends and weeks that coaches are out don’t make much sense, especially when you consider that in April, college players are finishing up the school year and roster turnover is going on. For an institution that is so focused on the “student-athlete” to have full coaching staffs gone during multiple weekends late in the school year doesn’t make sense.

Why not go to a calendar where it’s one weekend in April, one weekend in May, one weekend in June and two weeks in July — with a one-week break in the middle of that July run? This would allow players to properly rest for the games coaches would be in attendance, it would allow college coaches to see players develop month-by-month and the June weekend could also allow for college coaches to see many players play with their high school teams. Now if a player is injured during a few weeks in April and July, it doesn’t kill their recruiting momentum because they could get other months to play in front of coaches.

This idea, of course, all falls on the college coaches voting to make the changes themselves. The old guard of college coaches doesn’t want to be on the road and away from their families, but it’s ultimately hurting the game if so many players are going to programs where they either aren’t good enough, or don’t fit what the coach is looking for.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.